All it takes to see what Stanlieo’s Sub Villa means to Huntsville is sitting at a table in the dining room with founder Glenn Watson and his daughter Connie Ward. There is a continuous stream of decades-long customers saying hello, and they know them all by name and anecdote.
(No small feat, as Stanlieo’s turns 50 this May.)
After stints in the United States Air Force and at the University of Alabama, Watson discovered that while Huntsville was a delightful place, there were no sub shops. So, after aggressively apprenticing (for no pay!) at a sub shop called Santoro’s in Boston, as well as an intense tenure in senior roles at the flagship local Burger King, he opened Stanlieo’s in 1971, one door south of the current location on Jordan Lane.
(And Jordan Lane was the edge of town back then.)
Poetically (for Huntsville), there is a solid connection to the defense industry from the very beginning. “The day I opened the door, I had four one-dollar bills to my name,” Watson remembers. “If it hadn’t been for my wife Alice, who really is more responsible for Stanlieo’s success than I am (but people don’t believe that)…her check came in from Lockheed and paid the first payroll.”
Watson worked seven days a week for over a year to get Stanlieo’s off the ground. He also credits Alessandro’s, a long-departed bakery that allowed him to work at night to bake and perfect his bread (which today has the same recipe from 1971). And Ward mentions longtime area wholesaler Halsey Foodservice, who extended Stanlieo’s a line of credit back when “nobody gave lines of credit, especially to a brand-new restaurant.”
Oakwood University (then Oakwood College) also played an interesting role in the early success of Stanlieo’s. In 1973, when a group of students came in and said they were vegetarians, Watson created the “Oakwood Special”–three slices each of Swiss, American, and provolone. This led to Oakwood students educating Watson about the soy-based “meat” products they enjoyed, and Watson’s creation of sandwiches from the products. From then on, Stanlieo’s operated (and operates) with extended hours on Oakwood’s annual alumni weekend, enjoying robust support.
There is a menu full of marvelous sandwiches at Stanlieo’s, and I’ve had quite a few of them. Many of them have been on the menu from the beginning. I’ve never ordered one that I didn’t enjoy and finish.
But if there is an official sandwich of Huntsville, the Kitchen Sink is it. Packing Genoa salami, cotto salami, ham, turkey, roast beef, cappicola, pepperoni, Swiss, American, and provolone, it’s a full pound of deliciousness. I got the impression talking to Mr. Watson that it is slightly more popular hot, but I always get mine cold because I think the pickles, onions, tomatoes, and oregano really pop that way. Moreover, it’s the same experience every time I get it. That core consistency is why people are loyal to Stanlieo’s (and their menu favorites).
There have been different locations and dabblings in franchising over the years. Today there are locations on Jordan Lane and Governors Drive. So how about another 50 years? When I put the question to Ward, who has captained the Stanlieo’s ship since shortly after the turn of the century, she says “why not? Maybe one of my nephews.”
That’s excellent news for lovers of marvelous food.
Stanlieo’s Sub Villa
605 Jordan Lane
602 Governors Drive
Bo Williams is a Christian, husband, father, writer, and human trafficking activist. He is the Director of Public Relations for the North Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force (stnow.org). He enjoys IndyCar racing, wristwatches, and spending time with his family, especially at the beach. You can keep up with Bo day to day at BoWilliams.com.